There was once a young man who was dying, in one way or another.
And as his lungs heaved with the effort of breathing, and his heart beat tediously on, Death came to sit with him and hold him in her arms. She laid his head in her lap and stroked his hair and brushed away his tears with an edge of her black velvet cloak.
He listened to the waves crashing on the shore, and he wondered what it would be like to die.
As Death whispered comfort in his ear, he asked her. “Will I be alone when I die?”
Death gazed at him from beneath her velvet hood, and shook her head. Her skin was pale and silken, framed with silvery-blond hair, and her ample lips were painted black. She said, “When you die, everything will be alright. You will be in a garden of eternal sunlight, where darkness can not reach. You will be free of pain and discomfort and all limitations of the flesh. You will be surrounded by love and joy and calmness. You will drink from the fountain of the angels. You will rest and be free of all your burdens. And your soul will be in a state of absolute peace.”
The young man sighed as Death’s words tumbled lightly across his consciousness. Death is kind, he thought. Death is my friend. There is nothing to fear from Death.
But something tugged at his comprehension and he was pulled away from sleepy oblivion. With his eyebrows knitted, he looked up into Death’s ashen face and asked, “If death is so wonderful, why would anyone ever want to stay alive?”
Death looked down and met the young man’s gaze, and for a moment he thought she looked sad.
“I can not answer your question,” replied Death. “But I think I know someone who can.”
Death looked out at the sea beside them and lifted her palm in front of her, and blew. A cloud of sparkling, green dust billowed into the wind and drifted onto the surface of the water.
The sea began to churn. The ocean rocked. A raging whirlpool twisted in the deep, and from it emerged a force of nature, tall and formidable, with shimmering brown skin and emerald eyes, and black curls cropped close to her scalp. In her ears were gold studs that held dreamcatchers, and she wore a dress made of thin cotton, with multicolored shapes that wove into vibrant patterns as it clung to her form. Her nails were painted gold, and as she stepped onto the sand, the young man saw that her feet were bare.
She was Life.
When Life saw the young man lying in Death’s lap, her eyes grew wide and in a flash she was beside him, grasping both of his hands. Tears were streaming down her face, glittering as they caught the light of the setting sun.
Then Death spoke to her.
“Get a grip on yourself,” said Death. “Can you answer his question?”
Life hiccupped and looked into the pale face of her oldest friend. She looked out over the ocean and breathed a sigh.
“Alas,” said Life. “I can only share with you what others have told me. I can spin you a thousand tales of truth and wisdom but none would reveal the answer you seek.” Life turned her gaze back to the young man, and brushed a hand across his cheek. When she touched him, it was the warmth of nostalgia, familiarity, and old, old love.
“Tell me anyway,” said the young man.
Life nodded, a wry smile showing beneath trails of her dried tears. She took a deep breath, and recited:
The dead can not shake a whole world from its sleep,
The dead can not leave prints in the sand;
The dead can not alter the course of the earth,
The dead can not take a stand.
A dreamer can dream, only if they can wake,
One can learn only if one can try;
To create, one must also be able to err,
To love, must be able to die.
The young man listened to the poem, and as he did so, his breath became slow and relaxed. The sound of Life’s voice had calmed him. As death wiped sweat from the young man’s bangs, he tried to wrap his mind around what he had just heard.
He looked at Life, and she was looking at him, her eyes twinkling, expectant. He shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
Life replied, “It matters not. Every individual has their own reasons for choosing life. I could give you all the reasons I have ever heard and yours would still not be among them.”
He shivered as he felt the brush of Death’s fingers at his temple. “If I do not know my reason… can I still choose?”
Life squeezed both of his hands, and nodded. Her hands felt safe, like a promise.
He was tired. And Death’s hands were soothing and loving in his hair. And there would be no more pain.
And Death was smiling at him.
The young man asked, “Why must I be the one to make the choice?”
And Death said, “You are always welcome with me.”
And at the same time, Life said, “I will never let you go, until it is time.”
Life and Death looked at each other. They both laughed. The young man glanced from one friend to the other and felt, all of a sudden, that his position was terribly unfair, and nothing made any sense, and it was wrong, so wrong, that he was forced to choose between them.
Out of nowhere, energy surged through the young man’s veins, and he got to his feet.
He looked at Life, her eyes shadowed with chlorophyll, cheeks shimmering with love, a vigorous heart beating in her chest.
He looked at Death, her pearly skin soft to the touch, her shoulders perfectly relaxed, her face calm, not a care in the world.
To Life, he said, “It is clear that you have loved me for a very long time.” He held out a hand, and she pressed it to her lips.
To Death, he reached out a hand to touch her cheek, and said, “You have been so kind to me.”
He looked at Life. He looked at Death.
How could he possibly choose?
“How many times can I make my choice?” he asked.
“Just once,” replied Death.
The young man cocked his head and narrowed his eyes at her, and her lips curled and he knew she was lying.
“No,” he said. “That is not quite true.” He took a deep breath, and looked at Life. She met his gaze with a blazing stare of her own.
“Today I choose Life,” the young man said. And Life beamed at him.
He continued, “And tomorrow, I will choose again. And again the next day. And on every day forth that I am alive, I will be there to make a new choice. Until I am ready to choose death.”
Death raised her eyebrows and tilted her chin out to him. Then she gave him a nod of approval. She stepped forward and kissed his cheek, and that kiss marked his soul forever as one who has been to see death, but turned her away.
“When the time is right,” she whispered, “I will come for you.”
He nodded, and said, “Go in peace.”
Then Life offered him her hand, and he took it.
And side by side, they walked along the shore, as the last of the sunlight faded and the moon rose over the sea.
And it was evening, and it was morning, and it was a new day.